Tag Archives: Human nutrition

Back to Basics, Nutrition Rule #10

Rule 10: COOK

This is probably the most important rule of nutrition, at least in my opinion. To be clear, my definition of cooking does not include opening a box of Kraft “Dinner.” That’s not cooking. That’s boiling and stirring. Cooking means taking whole ingredients and making them into something edible.


-You control what goes into your food. You can choose to leave out the preservatives, use healthier oils and fats, reduce the sodium, or add more vegetables.  You are no longer a “Zombie eater,” which is what I call folks who mindlessly eat whatever they happen to be driving by at the time they decide they’re hungry.

-Almost anything you make at home is healthier than fast food, and even most restaurant food. It’s actually difficult to replicate the number of calories in a McDonald’s sandwich. You actually have to work hard to get that many calories in there, not to mention all the crap you can’t pronounce .  Making a burger with all the fixin’s at home will not only save you potentially hundreds of calories per meal, but the calories you do eat are far more likely to contain something resembling vitamins or minerals.

-You appreciate food more when you cook it yourself. So do children, so have them help in the kitchen. One of the easiest ways to get kids to eat healthy is to have them help select food items and put them together into something edible. It helps build a healthier relationship with food, making it a more integral part of life than just the act of consuming. And, this can lead to healthier choices and food preferences.


-If you’ve never cooked anything in your life, take a basic cooking class if you can. It’s worth the money, which you’ll save in short order once you stop eating out.

-If you have the basic skills of picking out food (what produce is ripe, what meat is lean, etc.), cutting and chopping, simmering, sauteeing, etc., then invest some time in reading cookbooks (you can get them from the library, and either just photocopy or write down what you want to try–if you like enough of the recipes, buy the book). Or, use quality sites like epicurious.com,  VegetarianTimes.com, or others that fit your lifestyle. Work on a collection of recipes you and your family will eat, and put them in a binder.

-Start small. Cook a few nights a week, and add nights as you find recipes. Start with easy, quicker recipes. As your skill develops, you can add more complicated recipes. Unless you love doing dishes, start with some good one-pot meals or crockpot meals. Start with inexpensive ingredients, like legumes, whole wheat pastas, or in-season vegetables. That way, if you totally muck it up (and we all do sometimes), it won’t be as big a deal. Work your way to more expensive ingredients as you gain confidence in your skills

-Plan for it. Each night, look at what you’re going to eat the next day. See, this is where the Meal Planning rule come  in! Take a moment each evening to get things out of the freezer, set up the crockpot, or anything else that requires a little preparation.

-Just do it. Like most things in life, getting good at cooking requires practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at things like determining how long a particular recipe will take to make, or what time you should put the rice on so it is done when your chicken comes out of the oven.

And, that’s the end of the series. There are a lot of smaller “rules,” and there are a lot of paths to a healthier lifestyle. Start simply, and see what works for you. Educate yourself, make your health a priority, and enjoy your food. The rest will follow.


Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #9

Get a hobby!

That’s a bit snarky, I realize, but the sentiment is accurate. Many people eat out of boredom or habit,  rather than hunger. Often, we eat without even realizing it because it’s become such a habit. Having something to do that requires brain and/or physical power can help curb those tendencies.


-It’s easy to eat when we’re sitting in a chair either watching TV or playing video games. All the food advertising doesn’t make it any easier.

-Hobbies/activities leave less time for munching. Being physically active, in particular, can curb your appetite.  Being mentally engaged takes your mind off hunger.

-It gives a sense of fulfillment that people often look for in food.


Just find something you like to do, and do it. Scrapbooking, sewing, kickboxing, a book club, yoga, whatever. The point is to occupy your body and mind with something fulfilling.

Come back Monday for the last, and probably the most important, rule!

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #8

Plan your meals.

This is something to start small with, but it’s a very necessary step for most people who want to eat a healthful diet based on whole foods.


-Eating spontaneously leads to poor food choices. When we’re hungry, we don’t usually want to fuss with making something that might take a bit of preparation, we just want to eat.

-Meal planning means have all your ingredients to-hand, while eating on the go means more shopping trips, which make it easier to overspend on groceries and make less ideal food choices.

-It gives you a road map for food preparation, so you can plan time to eat healthfully and meet your nutritional goals.

-It relieves a lot of the stress around meals. Once you get used to doing this, meal times become much more fun and easygoing than having to come home from work, figure out what you’re going to make, run to the store, and then try to cook everything in 15 minutes so you’re not eating at 9PM.


-Start small. Make a list of 10-14 dinners (depending on how your weekends usually go) that you (and your family) will eat. This is your starting point. Some people, such as ourselves, like to decide which meals will go on which nights. We tend to have kind of erratic schedules, so it helps us to plan who is cooking on what night, what meals will best fit our available preparation time, etc. But, some people do just find with having weekly dinners set up and the groceries purchased, and deciding between those meals each night. Find what works for you.

-Once you have this laid out, you can start adding or switching dinners to your lists each week. Use your meal lists to make your grocery lists.

-Each week, look at your list and assess how healthful the dinners are. If they could use some tweaking, try to do one or two meals a week with simple things, like adding a vegetable or switching from white to brown rice. This makes the transitions a bit easier than trying to do it all at once.

-Allow children who are old enough to help with the plan. They’re more likely to eat healthful foods if they help plan and prepare them!

-Once you’ve got the hang of making a dinner plan, try either breakfasts or lunches, whichever makes more sense for you. We plan most of our dinners to give us leftovers for lunches, which works well for us, but it may not work as well for others.

This will take some getting used to. Most of us are used to eating on the fly, and eating “what we’re in the mood for.” Unfortunately, that’s one of the ways we’ve gotten to be such an unhealthy nation, and it needs to change. Make a solid family commitment to meal plan for at least one month of dinners, and by the end of it, you may find yourself thinking “how did I do this any other way?”

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #7

Eat lean proteins. If you can’t afford quality meats, find an alternative.

Now, I probably don’t mean the same thing by “lean protein” as you’re used to hearing. I do not mean ripping the skin off your chicken, taking the fat off your milk, or using low-fat anything. Leave the fats on your foods: stop taking the skin off your chicken breast, quite buying skim milk, and throw out the “low fat” whatever it is in your cupboard.  However, what you should be looking for is non-corn fed. Why? Because this causes a different kind of fat, and lots of it. Starches like corn do a variety of things to animal products, none of them good (at least not for you–they’re great for large agriculture, though). I won’t go into all of it here, because there’s a good bit of science heavy boring stuff that is beyond the scope of this blog series; but, one good example of why to look for non-corn-fed is grass-fed beef, which has up to 1/2 less fat than corn-fed. Now, there are a lot of issues with “grass fed” and “corn-finished,” as well. Start with going grass-fed, for now. I’ll do a post on how to choose meats of all types here in the future to help you figure out what is okay with grains, but starting with this rule will make things easier.


-Fats and protein play an essential role in brain function. You need them.

-When you buy “low-fat” products, what you’re actually getting is more carbohydrates, empty calories, and additives like salt.

-Buying quality proteins gives you more protein and quality fat for your dollar.

-Low-quality proteins are often high in undesirable types of fat and chemicals.

-Protein helps keep you feeling full.

-A diet of all carbohydrates is going to make or keep you fat. You need to be eating at least 30% of your diet in good fats (grass-fed animal products, olive oil, etc.), and another 40% in protein. Don’t stress about the numbers, though. Just start replacing carb-heavy meals with veggies and protein, and it’ll all work out.


-Donate or throw away “low fat” items. I promise you the fats they do have in them are bad for you, and what they’ve replaced the rest of the fats with to retain flavor and texture is even worse.

-Look for grass-fed dairy, eggs, and meats either in the supermarket, or (preferably) from a local farmer.

-It will be more expensive, so make it stretch. Don’t eat whole cuts of meat, instead use it  in soups, stews, and casseroles with other good ingredients (like those veggies from rule #6). American tend to eat too much meat as it is. That said, truly lean meats–meaning lean in their whole, not just lean when you trim all the crappy fat off of them–can be expensive, and hard to find in some areas. So, you may need to supplement with other protein sources.

-If you can’t find or afford quality animal products (or, if you prefer not to eat them), there are a lot of great substitutes:

-Lentils & beans. These are your frugal friend, with good proteins. Add some olive oil to them, or butter, to make sure the appropriate fats are there.

-Fish. This is a complicated issue, and one I’ll do a blog on at some other time. I will say that if you’re eating farm-raised salmon for it’s health value, you’re wasting you money, because it doesn’t really have any health value. Some fish are fine farm-raised, some are pointless and even harmful. Start by doing wild-caught salmon, and farm-raised swai (it’s a mild whitefish) now, and work other fish in as you do the research and find out what is healthful and what is harmful.

-Tofu & tempeh. (I am NOT going to get into the soy argument here, so all of you who found your way over here to tell me the dangers or wonders of soy, go do it on your own blog; this is meant to be basic nutrition info, not a thesis on phytoestrogens). If you are going to do this, you need to look for ORGANIC tofu and tempeh, preferably ones labeled “Non-GMO.”

-Eat protein-rich vegetables, like broccoli, in combination with grains. There can be a bit of complexity to this, so if you’re vegetarian, I recommend you do a good bit of research to make sure you have complete amino acids.

-Eat quinoa. It’s a complete protein, and is great with some olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes, or in place of rice or mashed potatoes.

-Eat nuts!

-Eat protein rich snacks like cottage cheese, nuts, and boiled eggs. Reach for a slice of cheese and almonds when you want a snack, instead of the Doritos. Even if it’s not grass-fed cheese (which can be really hard to find), the protein and fats in these foods will give you a slow energy boost instead of the sugar spike you get from starches and sugars. They’ll also fill you up faster, and keep you that way longer.

Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #6

Rule #6: Eat Your Vegetables.

This is often, it seems, the hardest thing for people to do; but, it needs to be done.


-Vegetables provide an important source of complex carbohydrates that fill you up and keep you full, with very few calories.

-The fiber content in vegetables helps stabilize blood sugar, helping to protect you from insulin resistance and diabetes.

-The fiber also keep the digestive system moving along, and can protect against some cancers.

-Vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are important for your immune system, skin, brain, and pretty much every other part of your body.

-Many vegetables contain protein. Now, there’s no actual protein shortage here in the US, but it does mean veggies are a good stand-in for meat proteins if quality meats aren’t available or too expensive.


No one wants to eat a gray, floppy mess on a plate. Vegetables can and should be appetizing, and the most important thing to do is to learn how to cook them well. Choose fresh, crisp vegetables with bright colors, and mix them up.

-Roast. I don’t think I’ve met a vegetable that doesn’t roast well, even leafy greens. And, it’s easy: just toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper (add other spices if you want), lay in single layer on a cookie sheet or baking pan, and put into a hot oven (I usually use about 375o F) until done. Roasting caramelizes a vegetable’s sugar, rendering it yummy, and retaining most of the nutrients!

-Blanch. This is good for broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, edamame, etc. Plunge into boiling water for just a minute or two, then plunge into cold water. Eat cold as a salad, or as munchies.

-Kabob & grill. Cut into kebab-size pieces, toss with olive oil and teriyaki sauce if you like, skewer, and grill.

There are many other ways to do veggies; raw, sauteed, seared, ribboned instead of noodles, etc. Just don’t boil them, and don’t over steam. Don’t buy them pre-cooked and smothered in sauce, either. Fresh, whole, vegetables, and cook them at home.

.-Start by adding a vegetable to each dinner, either as side dish or incorporated into the main dish, or as a dinner salad.  Once you’ve mastered that, add them to lunches, and even breakfasts (eggs on a bed of tomatoes and wilted spinach is divine!).

The general rule is you can eat as many vegetable as you want (dietary restrictions such as diabetes notwithstanding). Even Weight Watchers is giving most of them zero points now. The exception to this is corn, which is technically not a vegetable except under the broadest definition. It’s a grain, and contains a lot of starch and sugar, so it needs to be eaten in moderation.

Back to Basics: Rule #5

Rule #5: No Fast Food.

There are exceptions to every rule. I recently had to make an unexpected, emergency 14-hours-each-way drive for a death in the family, and I barely had time to get in the car, let along grocery shop and pack a cooler. It’ll happen. That is what fast food is for. I will say I haven’t been so incredibly sick as I was when I returned home, though, having eaten really poorly for a week. I regretted it for almost a month, and it’s taught me I need to keep ready-to-go travel food on hand, because I just can’t handle the crap they serve in fast-food places.


-Fast food generally means you’ve planned badly. I am not saying you can’t ever have a burger from McDonald’s again, but I am saying it should only happen a few times a year, and then only as a special “treat,” or an absolute emergency.

-It’s really high in calories, even the salads if you get croutons or add dressings. Take a look at the nutrition information. For most people, one sandwich from a fast food chain can be up to half of their daily caloric intake needs. Add fries, and the vast majority of people in the US have gone well over half, often up to 2/3 (and, with the bigger sandwiches and fries, it can be almost the entirety of some people’s caloric daily needs).

-Almost all of it contains ingredients that violate the previous rules. Yes, even that yogurt parfait will surprise you with it’s loads of processed sugars and preservatives. “Healthy” options at most of these places just mean “slightly less awful options.”

-It’s not satisfying, because the ingredients it does contain do not set off the hormones that tell your body it’s full. So, you eat far more. It’s also got little or no fiber, so you’re hungrier sooner.

-You don’t want to know what’s in it. Trust me on this. If you saw what it was made of and how it was processed, you’d never eat it again.

-There are exceptions, but not many, and they change often enough that it’s hard to keep up with what might be reasonable options. Ingredients change quickly in the fast food industry, and what you’re eating one week may not be what you’re eating the next.


-Plan your meals. If you need lunch at work, plan your dinners to give you leftovers, or put sandwich or salad fixings on your grocery list. If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, get a cooler or insulated lunch bag and an ice pack. If you don’t have access to heating facilities, plan lunches that can be eaten cold.

-Pack healthy snacks for yourself and children if you’re on the go. I keep a cooler in my car almost all of the time. I also keep roasted almonds and walnuts with me.

-Get used to being  hungry. Here’s the truth: people can be hungry for a half hour with no ill effects. we don’t need to eat the very second we feel a slight hunger pang. It’s better if you eat before you get hungry by setting a solid meal plan, but if that goes awry, know that eating in a half an hour or hour when you get home will be fine (obviously, if you’re diabetic or have hypoglycemia, this doesn’t apply; but, what does apply is that you need to keep appropriate snacks at your disposal).

Back to Basics, Nutrition Rule 4

Get crappy food out of the house. Throw it out, donate it, whatever.


Here’s the deal: I occasionally eat a Butterfinger, or ice cream. But, we don’t keep them in the house. If I want something like this, I have to go get it. Because the dirty little truth is that if I keep it in the house, I’ll do exactly what most of us will do: I’ll eat it all, and I’ll do it in a far shorter time than is healthy or wise.If I have to go get it, I think more about it, and almost always make the healthier choice. Those treats are about instant gratification, and it’s not “instant” if I have to run my behind to the store to get it.

I am not saying you can never have your favorite candy bar again (obviously), or that you can’t ever get take-out. I am saying that almost everyone makes far healthier eating choices if they have to think about them. If they’re on hand, we tend to over-eat them, because they’re easy.


Keep replacements in the house. Want crunchy? Grab roasted nuts. Want sweet? Grab an orange or apple. Want salty? Grab some pickles. Want fatty? Grab the cheese. Considering frozen pizza for dinner? Make an easy homemade crust and throw on some tomato sauce, cheese, and your other favorite toppings (yes, this is still way better for you than DiGiorno, or however it’s spelled).  You get the idea.

Usually, you’ll find that if you satisfy your craving with a healthier food, the want for an unhealthy one will subside.

This series will take a break over the weekend, and return Monday with rule 5!